BOSTON – The Bruins have been red-hot for almost two months and that epic run has vaulted them into a playoff spot that’s going to be very difficult to lose over the second half of the season.
The B’s are in second place in the Atlantic Division with games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference. They hold a commanding nine-plus point lead over a lackluster rest of the division.
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If the Bruins only win half of their remaining 44 games (which really doesn’t seem likely given the way they’ve played), they would still be at 94 points and very much in the mix for a playoff spot. If they play any better than .500 hockey the rest of the way they’re assured of a playoff spot, and a big chunk of games against Montreal and Florida in the second half gives them a good chance to deal death blows to both of those teams as well.
So with things going Boston’s way, it might be easy for the Bruins to begin putting it in cruise control moving forward. That’s something the Bruins players are actively looking to avoid with a whole half-season left, and with so many youthful players they might just be able to do it with so many players new to this playoff race thing.
“We understand that we’ve got something good right now, and we just want to do everything we can to keep it rolling,” said rookie Jake DeBrusk. “We’re starting to find our identity and I think it’s about staying consistent. We’ve done a good job in the standings, but there is still a lot of hockey to be played.
“We understand that it’s just going to get tougher, and the ‘real season’ is coming up. We need to be ready for it, stick with the game plan and have all of us help out pushing the sled.”
At this point, the Bruins just want to ride out a stretch that’s seen them win 16 of their past 21 games, and take points in nine consecutive games headed into this weekend’s games vs. Carolina and Pittsburgh just ahead of the five-day bye. Even B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that it’s tough to find much at fault in the all-around way the team is playing right now.
“When things are going well, I don’t know if you don’t see your weaknesses or you say ‘Well, we’re getting away with them.’ There are some in there and [the players] aren’t perfect, but you also want them to feel good coming to the rink. You always want to do that even when you’re losing, and try to make it enjoyable coming to the rink,” said Cassidy. “Now we’re trying to build on things we’re doing well as opposed to fixing things you aren’t.
“Then all of a sudden you get slammed and you realize you’ve got to get back to work. That’s generally how things work when you’re going well. Right now we’re enjoying it, but there’s still a thought we have things to fix.”
Here’s the reality for the Bruins, however.
They need to bank points in this stretch where the team is healthy and able to take advantage of breaks in play thanks to the five-day bye and the All-Star break weekend. After that, the Bruins have a difficult, condensed schedule that sees them playing a crazy 16 games in March.
The points will be more difficult to come by at that point in the schedule and undoubtedly their cushion will shrink a bit as the Canadiens, Panthers and Red Wings make their respective pushes for the postseason. It might be easy for the Bruins to rest on their accomplishments over the past two months given their current place in the Eastern Conference playoff pole position, but there is still work to be done as they're finally firing on all cylinders.